EXCLUSIVE: Ana Villafañe Dishes on Playing Gloria Estefan on Broadway

EXCLUSIVE: Ana Villafañe Dishes on Playing Gloria Estefan on Broadway
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Good news, Gloria Estefan fans: The Cuban superstar is back, belting out her best-loved singles and rockin' her iconic black chaps nightly in New York.

At least, that's what you would think if you saw On Your Feet!, the hit Broadway musical starring Ana Villafañe. Eight times a week, the Latina sensation channels Estefan in a performance that is so uncanny — she wears four different wigs to evoke the singer's signature curls — one could be forgiven for thinking it was 1986. If the rhythm didn't get you then, Villafañe's perfect portrayal of Estefan will now. 

We talked to the triple threat (singer, dancer, actress), and asked her about Gloria, why she refuses to play a maid, and the definition of gratitude. Here's what she had to say.

MORE: On Your Feet Star Josh Segarra Talks Broadway & Fame

Despite being discovered in high school, you went to college and got a degree in music. It’s an unusual choice that’s not common in Hollywood. Why not just skip school and shoot for the stars?

My parents sacrificed a lot for me to have a solid education, so that was one major factor. Staying in school was the catch in order to move across the country, and I’m grateful that they pushed me. I love a challenge. When I moved to LA, all I wanted to do was work, but I know myself well enough to know that being in school kept me grounded and focused. The funny part is that I decided not to study theatre. Singing was always just something I could do naturally, but once college came around, I had a random desire to understand music at a deeper level. I saw the chance and impulsively went for it (typical). I think music was the only subject that could’ve kept my attention. My heart was in it. And now I get to look back and say I actually did that.

You’re the second of four kids in your family. How do you find your voice in a large(ish) family, and are you close with your siblings?

I’m very close to my siblings. I always say I was in the perfect position: being the youngest of two girls makes me the little princess, but I still have two younger brothers that I get to boss around. I’m lucky, my older sister has lived here in New York for six years, so now that I’m here, I see her all the time. No matter where we all are in the world, there’s a constant group text that we are all on. Like it or not, the whole family gets to see when someone finds a stupid gif or when one of my brothers learns a new song on the guitar. Also they are all so awesome and funny and weird in their own ways. I had to have a voice because otherwise you'd quite literally get left behind — at church, school, in the car....

What does it mean for you, as a daughter of the Cuban exile, to see the gates to Cuba opening?

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So I see this moment in history as a moment of hope for Cuba. Specifically it should mean hope for the Cuban citizens. There has been a lot of pain and suffering, and it is definitely time for a change. The question is how. Positive change in Cuba can mean that I’ll actually be able to go to this island that until now has only really existed in my imagination. Cuba has only existed to me in the food, the music, old photos, and the stories I grew up listening to.

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